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Razor-like left boot and courage, Duryea at home in Hawks' defence

Taylor Duryea of the Hawks in action during the 2013 NAB Cup round 02 match between the Western Bulldogs and the Hawthorn Hawks at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. (Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/AFL Media)
Taylor Duryea has slotted well into Hawthorn's backline this season
If you worry about how you're going to get into this side, you start playing some pretty reactive footy
Taylor Duryea
IT TOOK more than three seasons, a change of mindset and a switch to the opposite end of the ground, but Taylor Duryea has finally made it at Hawthorn.

Now he just needs to get people to start saying his surname correctly.

The half-back has made a strong impression at AFL level this season, playing seven games since his debut against Collingwood in round three.

He has many of the attributes the Hawks value in their defenders – discipline, courage, and a razor-like left boot – auguring well for his prospects of a long and successful career in the brown and gold.

But the 22-year-old's path to senior football was bumpy at first.

A midfielder as a junior, he was pencilled in as a potential forward pocket when he walked through the Waverley Park doors, fresh out of Caulfield Grammar at the end of 2009.

It was a year-and-a-half long experiment that never quite worked out.

"I played some pretty poor footy up forward (for Hawthorn's VFL affiliate Box Hill), and I couldn't get out of the rut," Duryea told AFL.com.au this week.

"I was over-thinking and worrying about the consequences too much.

"I was missing some easy goals because I was getting so worried, and it just wasn't coming naturally to me."

When the rut got so deep that he was sent back to the VFL reserves in mid-2011, Duryea realised something had to change.

He moved to defence, and started to model his game on veteran Brent Guerra.

"I switched down back just to try to change things up, and it released the shackles a bit," Duryea said.

"That saved me, definitely."

His form on the up, the next issue was how to squeeze into a Hawthorn backline stuffed with elite defenders such as Guerra, Grant Birchall and Matt Suckling.

"You look at the side and you think, 'How am I going to get past them?' They're such great players," Duryea said.

"But if you worry about how you're going to get into the side, you start playing some pretty reactive footy.

"My first couple of years, I was always thinking about the consequences of my actions.

"That's what changed for me last year.

"I just started worrying about my own form and how I could help the Box Hill side, and that sort of translated into pressure on the Hawthorn senior side.

"My focus changed and it ended up being better for me."



Taylor Duryea celebrates with the fans after Hawthorn's round 10 win over Melbourne. Picture: AFL Media

Named as an emergency twice in 2012 and awarded Box Hill's best player in the finals, Duryea naturally aimed for a senior debut this season, although Suckling's unfortunate knee injury opened the door sooner than he expected.

With help from the experienced campaigners around him, he has felt comfortable at the top level, even if the mental and physical stresses are much greater.

Jobs on slippery small forwards such as Magpie Jamie Elliott and Fremantle's Hayden Ballantyne have made him realise the importance of constant concentration.

"You've got to be so mindful, because they're super quick at racing out the back of a contest," Duryea said.

"You just can't rest at all, mentally."

Having played such a large chunk of senior football already, Duryea has exceeded his pre-season expectations.

He's reluctant, though, to dream of how much further he might go.

With Cyril Rioli and Brendan Whitecross returning from injury in the coming weeks, pressure for senior spots in the lead-up to September will be high.

He is focused only on doing his best for the team at every opportunity.

"A player in my position can't look too far ahead," he said.

"It's about continually trying to consolidate your position in the side, and trying to prove to your teammates and coaches that you can play in the 22.

"We've got players coming back over the next few weeks, and although they don't play in my direct position, the number of guys we've got who can roll around into different positions means the balance of the side could change, and that might mean I could go out.

"It's just about playing good team football.

"If I'm doing that, I'm happy with myself, and if I get dropped, then so be it.

"I'm not going to be worried about that day if it does come."

And as for that surname, Duryea has a little tip for those having trouble with the pronunciation.

"You put together the surnames of two AFL players: Stuart Dew, and Farren Ray; so it's 'Dew-Ray'," he said.

"Two syllables. Pretty simple.

"But everyone seems to add an extra one on the end."

Mark Macgugan covers Hawthorn for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter: @AFL_MarkM